Bundesliga viewers were treated to a very high-octane match-up this Sunday as RB Leipzig hosted Eintracht Frankfurt at Red Bull Arena. Die Adler came into the game off the back of a 1-0 win over Hoffenheim where they hadn’t shown the usual energy and punch we’ve gotten used to seeing them play with. Leipzig on the other hand was in fine form, having beaten Bundesliga new boys FC Union Berlin 4-0 in their last fixture away from home. With so many changes and sales of key talent this summer, it was never going to be easy for Frankfurt to come to Red Bull Arena and get a result.
The hosts boasted the best defensive record in the Bundesliga last season, with 16 clean sheets and 29 goals against, ensuring they would have Champions League football come August. The hosts showed that this was a trend that would continue this season as they made it very difficult for Frankfurt to create clear, threatening chances. Frankfurt, for their part did their best to foil Leipzig’s defensive strategy by showing much more energy and drive in this match, but in many instances the final touch or pass was still not there.
Despite the final result being 2-1, however, Frankfurt put up an admirable fight and were unlucky to come away from this game with nothing, as their performance merited at least a point. Let’s take a look at some key talking points from Frankfurt’s bout with a team that many have tipped to push both Dortmund and Bayern for the title.
Defence shows resilience, despite result:
Despite the result not going in Frankfurt’s favor, it has to be said that the overall defensive performance wasn’t all that bad, considering the opponent they were facing. Die Adler may have shipped two goals, but the goals they did ship came from excellent Leipzig play rather than blatant defensive errors. The first goal, scored by Timo Werner, resulted from a well worked corner, something that admittedly has been an Achilles heel for Frankfurt. In last weekend’s clash with Hoffenheim, the first (almost) goal Hoffenheim scored came from a set piece. The same can be said about Frankfurt’s bout with Strasbourg in the Europa League qualifiers this past week – the one goal their opponents managed to score came from a corner. The finish from Werner’s shot was very, very good. Werner, who just signed an extension with Leipzig that ties him to the club until 2023, showed just how valuable he is to this Leipzig side, and how deadly he can be in front of goal, to Frankfurt’s dismay.
Frankfurt, to their credit, did not crumble and for most of the game continued to repel what was a heavy onslaught of attacks from Leipzig. Where other teams may have conceded more goals, Frankfurt was resolute, with the likes of Makoto Hasebe cutting out multiple crosses that were directed towards Werner. The former Japanese international captain kept tabs on the Leipzig striker quite well for most of the game, showing his experience in the process.
Erik Durm and Sebastian Rode both had very good games as well. After starting on the bench last weekend, Durm found himself in the starting lineup against Leipzig, and put in a very solid shift. The former Dortmund man did a good job covering his flank against Leipzig’s advances, while also supporting the attack with some very good passes to both Gonçalo Paciência and Filip Kostić. He also showed he can still turn his man, getting away from his marker when going forward on a couple of occasions. Rode, on his part, did well to link defence and attack. The defensive midfielder put in some solid tackles and played in some dangerous through balls that caused some menace for Leipzig. He also made a few penetrating runs, such as the one in the 51st minute which saw him fouled in a good position for Frankfurt to try and take advantage of a set piece.
Perhaps the most impactful member of the defence was on for the shortest period of play, however. Timothy Chandler came on well into the second half and managed to spark what looked like a Frankfurt revival. It would be his cross that would find Paciência in the box for the Portuguese forward’s first goal of this campaign in the Bundesliga. Chandler brought the extra energy Frankfurt needed to push Leipzig in the final minutes of the match.
Attack shows potential despite slow start to the season:
Frankfurt’s attack has had a slow start in the Bundesliga this season, with the forwards finding it very difficult to slot the ball into the back of the net in their first two games. Both Gonçalo Paciência and Dejan Joveljić found themselves in the starting 11 again, with both Ante Rebić and Mijat Gaćinović out injured, according to the club.
For much of the game, Paciência was very quiet and didn’t trouble the Leipzig goal all that much. All of a sudden, however, in the 88th minute, the Portuguese center forward sprang to life and made a very clever run into the box, finding himself on the end of Chandler’s cross in the process. The finish was clinical, and Frankfurt fans can only hope this is a sign of things to come.
Dejan Joveljić was also given a start in this game, and he didn’t make the impact that perhaps he would’ve wanted in his Bundesliga debut. The former Red Star man found himself in a handful of dangerous situations, none of which he was able to convert into anything more than a missed opportunity. He also showed a bit of inexperience in the brazen way he attacked the ball at times. In the 65th minute he picked up a yellow card for going in to try and win the ball from Leipzig’s Péter Gulácsi. Joveljić’s follow through clipped the Hungarian keeper, which earned the striker a quick booking.
I do want to avoid being too critical of his performances because of both his youth and inexperience in the league. It is clear from his earlier performances that the quality is there, and with the signing of Bas Dost now confirmed, I think Joveljić will be able to focus more on learning and acclimatizing rather than fielding the weight of being “the next Jović” right away.
Filip Kostić, on the other hand, continued to impress and show a fighting spirit that seems to be slowly spreading to the rest of Adi Hütter’s Frankfurt side. Die Adler’s number 10 was all over the field in this game, running from the first whistle to the last, and always trying to create something out of virtually nothing. In the 5th minute, Kostić was responsible for playing in a very dangerous ball across the box, but none of his teammates were able to reach it. He continued to make dangerous runs up the wing, but also tracked back to defend, and in some of these instances he managed some very important interceptions, after which he would try and start a Frankfurt counter attack, something I personally look forward to seeing more of.
It is also worth mentioning that Frankfurt new boy Daichi Kamada continues to show great promise. The attacking midfielder showed an energy that was almost equal to Kostić, and I can see both of them being an important driving force behind whatever Frankfurt manage to achieve this year.
Hinteregger benched for Frankfurt:
A final point of interest that caught my attention during the game was Adi Hütter’s choice to bench Martin Hinteregger after the center back’s heroics against Hoffenheim. It is no secret that the Austrian defender has had a massive impact on the squad since his move from Augsburg, and his performance against Hoffenheim highlighted why he has been a mainstay in the back line since arriving. His omission in the starting lineup could have played a role in the final result, as his presence in the box for set pieces has proven important for Die Adler on quite a few occasions.
One would have to assume that his place on the bench was due to the knock he picked up in the game against Hoffenheim. Perhaps it was Hütter’s idea that it would be good for Hinteregger to rest, and perhaps it will prove to be the right decision in the end. For Frankfurt, the season will be long and arduous should they qualify for the Europa League group stages, and a fully fit squad will be crucial for the team to be able to compete on all fronts.
Despite the result, Frankfurt’s performance was rather refreshing after their lackluster start to the season. The team looks much more energized and ready to contend with even the teams at the top echelons of the league. This mentality and fighting spirit will be important for them to take on into their next game, which is against Fortuna Düsseldorf this coming Sunday. Fortuna have already shown this season that they can put in solid performances, taking out Werder Bremen in their first game of the season 3-1, but their following result against Bayer Leverkusen this past weekend showed the more fragile side to their game.
The pace of Kevin Volland, Karim Bellarabi and co. proved too much to handle for Düsseldorf, and this is something that perhaps Frankfurt can exploit as well with the likes of Kamada and Kostić. It will also be a home game, and I expect Frankfurt to take all three points in this match.
By Brian Szlenk.